Ever since her first job in high school working at a bakery in Orange County, Gillian Helquist knew she was destined for a career in the culinary industry. Her passion for good food started at an early age when, by the time she was eight years old, she was making and baking her own birthday cakes using recipes from the pages of Gourmet magazine, favoring her own creations over the store-bought variety. She spent her summers in Mendocino traveling with her parents, which laid the foundation and appreciation for the area and its culture.
During her 15-year career as a pastry and savory chef, she has worked at some of the Bay Area's most renowned restaurants. She now feels right at home living in Sonoma among farmland and her backyard chickens. With an appreciation for all things sweet and savory, Helquist takes a balanced approach to the desserts on the menu at Nick's Cove, always highlighting the seasonal bounty of the area and honoring the climate of the dining experience.
"The lifestyle of the Marin-Sonoma coast has always been really important to me," said Helquist. "Every day I'm greeted with the juxtaposing scents of the salt water, eucalyptus and wild fennel, all of which serve as inspiration for the work I do in the restaurant."
Paying homage to the history of Nick's Cove and her sense of nostalgia for childhood, Helquist's desserts embody a classic Americana spirit mixed with a playful executions and fresh California ingredients. In summer, her creations could include Marshall Wildflower Pot de Crème with mission fig brulée and sesame crisp or the Espresso Granita with clover cream and coffee-almond cookies. Changing with the weather of Tomales Bay, early fall could usher in Warm Gingerbread with Comice pears and St. George Pear William Sabayon or a Warm Coastal Huckleberry Upside Down Cake with golden delicious apples. In the colder months, she will experiment with ingredients such as pumpkins, quince and apples. Working with the beverage team at Nick's, Helquist also experiments with the use of spirits and cordials in her recipes, such as the playfully-named Butter"Scotch" Pot de Crème with Johnny Walker Scotch and pecan shortbread.
Prior to joining Nick's Cove in August of 2011, Helquist was the pastry chef for Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg. She and her husband Jon Helquist, who is also a chef, worked for Chef Michael Tusk in 2003-2004 opening his beloved restaurant Quince in San Francisco, even assisting with the construction and build-out of the space. She credits her husband, Tusk and Paul Bertolli of Oliveto in Oakland, where she started her career, as two of the biggest culinary influences on her life, who appreciated the role daily-changing produce, the weather and creativity in the cuisine they created. Helquist also worked as a line chef at the renowned Zuni Café in San Francisco, as a pastry chef and sous chef at Mazzini Trattoria in Berkeley and as a baker at Downtown Bakery & Creamery in Healdsburg.
She graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park in 1997 and went on to earn a master's degree at the International Institute for Foreigners in Costigliole d'Asti, Italy. While studying abroad she worked as a chef at La Voglia Matta in the Emiglia Romagna region of Northern Italy, focusing on the local cuisine of the region.
When she's not busy whipping up confections at Nick's Cove, Helquist enjoys exploring and supporting the local farms, experimenting with different produce. She lives in Sebastopol, Calif., with her husband and two daughters.